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Firms Realize Importance of Upgrading

Once a month, employees at Cavignac & Associates, a San Diego-based insurance agency, review the company’s technology systems.

The 38 employees discuss the company’s software system and computer operations with management, which uses the feedback to decide what needs to be upgraded and when.

The meetings are an integral part of maintaining a successful working environment, said Julie Harvey, the company’s director of visible progress.

The agency spends nearly $25,000-$30,000 a year upgrading equipment and purchasing new technology, Harvey said, adding that the 13-year-old company upgrades its computers every three years and its servers every five to seven years.

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“About $15,000 is strictly on hardware,” Harvey said. “We kind of look at it as risk management. Technology is constantly changing, so we are always looking at changes.”

The company went paperless in 2004, providing all its employees with two computer monitors as part of the transition, she said.

“Industry research has indicated paperless is much more consistent and accurate than filing,” Harvey said.

According to a recent small-business survey by Union Bank of California, Cavignac & Associates is not alone when it comes to purchasing new or upgrading equipment.

In San Diego County, 33 percent of small businesses that upgraded or purchased new equipment spent more than $10,000 each in 2004 on purchasing and upgrading technology, according to the survey.

The survey defined small businesses as companies in operation for at least two years and with annual sales under $5 million for fiscal year 2004.


Return On Investment

“A lot of people look at it as it’s an expense, but it’s not an expense,” Harvey said. “It is a return on investment.”

And without the upgrades and new technology, business will suffer, she said.

“It really means we are allowed to provide a higher level of service to our clients, more effectively and efficiently,” she said.

Jorge Lopez, owner of Small Business Network Solutions, a San Diego-based provider of computer and network support for small and medium-sized businesses, said that making sure a company provides its employees with the proper equipment is very important.

“A lot of business take their systems for granted until something goes wrong,” Lopez said. “And as soon as something goes wrong, it is always an emergency. Companies don’t understand how important maintaining technology is.”

Lopez, who has been in business for 11 years, said companies should upgrade their computer systems every three to four years to ensure that the systems are operating to the best of their ability.

When changes occur, “it’s a pretty powerful impact,” he said.


Sticker Shock

But for some small businesses, cost can be a factor when considering upgrades for their workers and they may encounter sticker shock when they find out the estimated cost.

“Most people don’t upgrade computers anymore, they just buy new computers,” said Mike Ling, owner of PC at Home, a Carlsbad-based computer and networking solutions provider that specializes in small businesses. “After paying for parts, technician and labor, the cost (of an upgrade) is more than a new computer. It’s getting to a point where a new computer is so cheap it’s not worth paying for the upgrade.”

Ling said companies can purchase a new computer for $300-$400.

But no matter whether a company buys a new computer or upgrades its existing computers, firms should make sure they do one or the other, Ling said.

“It’s slow, it’s affecting business and people can’t work,” Ling said of using outdated hardware. “If old computers are giving employees problems all the time it could take two hours to do something. And the average user is not trained to deal with these problems that come up. Working like that, employees are not going to be very happy.”

Alfredo Acuna, owner of A & A; Auto Repair, an automotive repair shop in Oceanside, last upgraded his computer system in 2003.

The company has two computers for its three employees, Acuna said.

He said that while he doesn’t upgrade on a regular basis, he does upgrade when necessary.

“We are a very small business. Naturally, small businesses don’t change that much,” Acuna said. “I want to keep up with the times, but what I am using right now is up to my needs.”

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